Twenty-something fraternal twins Sarah (Amelia Dudley) and Spencer Moss (Taylor Turner) are articulate, acerbic and thirsty (in every sense) – but they are also missing something. For having grown up in foster homes and never known their parents, they are wayward lost souls, longing to fill the gap in their life story – and on this evening they are checking in at the Eagle Inn, an off-road, off-season hotel near the Canadian border that was, on the night of 20th December, 1994, the site of their unexpected birth during a snowstorm. It was also where their mother died (from post-partum complications) and where their father mysteriously vanished. It is not hard to reconstruct a rational account of why a man, suddenly bereft of his wife and left alone with two premature newborns, might panic and disappear from the picture. Yet Spencer is convinced that there is a supernatural underpinning to this tragedy of abandonment, and so, with his more sceptical sister in tow, he arrives at the inn looking for answers.
The Eagle Inn does not take bookings, depending instead entirely on “walk-in only” traffic – which is ironic, given that it has seen better days (maybe last in the Eighties), and is way off the beaten path, in a sort of twilight zone of faded, wifi-free remoteness. Still, it does, as the creepily over-friendly Night Manager (Greg Schweers) promises, offer “all the amenities”. As the siblings find themselves the only guests in an establishment that is a bizarre time capsule, they both divert themselves with the charms of strapping young maintenance man Dean (Beau Minniear), and as the night deepens, become alarmingly aware that there is something very wrong with the hotel’s in-room televisions – all of which are windows onto the despair and depravity of previous guests. As the minutes tick by, Sarah and Spencer come to realise that they have signed in for a diabolical date with destiny from which it may be impossible to negotiate an escape.
It is difficult to picture a haunted hotel without thinking of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), and this latest feature from Erik Bloomquist (Ten Minutes To Midnight, 2020) takes a self-conscious approach to this influence, having Spencer jokingly refer to the Night Manager as “Jack Torrance” even before the concierge has started threatening to huff and puff and blow the door in. For Bloomquist, co-writing with his brother Carson (and appearing as Daddy Moss), makes no secret of his sources – Spencer even references, by series and episode number, the story in television’s The Twilight Zone from which one disorienting trope here has been lifted. Yet this knowing irony is coupled with some genuinely freaky moments and narrative surprises, even as the setting is, in keeping with the film’s budget, a notably low-rent version of The Overlook.
The result is an eccentrically appointed feature that comfortably accommodates the weird and the witty, while setting up a contract with the viewer that you just know is going to prove unreliable. There is also, hidden in these hallways, an allegory of trauma’s resonant genetic legacy, where sometimes just to be born is to be damned.
strap: Erik Bloomquist’s haunted hotel horror offers weird and witty accommodation to lost souls and traumatic legacies
© Anton Bitel